Right now some 600 or so web practitioners are making their way to Milwaukee, the Meeting of the Waters.
Among them are some people have never gone to a large conference, and are at a loss as to what to bring with themselves. I’ve put together a few suggestions from previous trips that can go a long way to helping to maximizing their enjoyment out of a conference and to help keep connected throughout.
At a higher education web professional conference, expect a lot of digital devices. A LOT. The sheer number of devices per person often pushes the intranet capabilities to the limit. This is probably the most tweeted conference I’ve ever attended (you are following #heweb12, aren’t you?).
Consequentially, the savvy attendees uses several devices to stay connected, and nimbly move from one to another when the situation warrants it (sometimes you phone will have better connectivity than your laptop, and vice versa).
Also, consider bringing an e-reader for the long plane ride – a lot less cumbersome than a book and will save you a few ounces to a few pounds in packing.
The Right Accessories
All those electronic devices are going to up something faster than bandwidth: power. Power outlets are a precious commodity in the meeting rooms, and power-hungry attendees will circle the plugs like mutants in a Mad Max post-apocalyptic dystopia around an oil refinery.
Ignore Tina’s advice – we need another hero. Bring a power strip. Small, compact power strips can be easily stowed away and extend one plug to three of four, with a USB port to boot. Plus, it’s a great way to break the ice with a fellow attendee by offering to share the strip with them.
This year I’m also bringing as external power source for charging. Power Strips work great in the conference halls but aren’t available during evening excursions and dinners. Having a little extra portable juice can help get you through those lean times.
I also carry a robust set of dongles and USB attachments in my bag, just in case a presenter or fellow attendee needs them. It’s not a lot of extra weight, and can really help out in some dire situations.
Brings some business cards. Seriously, I mean it. Invariably you’ll run out of power, or the person you are talking to will, and you’ll not be able to share contacts via your phone or type in a Twitter handle. Having the paper equivalent will come in handy, if only for a few interactions you have at the conference, or for the times you need to write some additional information down to give to the individual.
Bring a notepad too for those times when it’s simply easier to jot down some notes than type them. I prefer something slim that can fit int he back of the computer bag, like a steno pad.
Nothing beats a clever hat. Especially a Jayne hat.
But by all means, don’t limit yourselves to a hat. Find a clever shirt, or a particular color or style of shirt. As Nicholas Cage said, it’s ‘a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom’.
Besides that, it’s a quick way to help someone spot you in the crowd, and can work as a rallying point to get people over to you when organizing events or outings. It’s wearable wayfinding, and it can be your friend.
Get Around Town
Part of coming to a new town is being able to immerse yourself in the culture and sites. For Milwaukee, that includes a strong German tradition, local breweries, an amazing art museum, the parks of Lake Michigan, and perhaps a ride on a clipper ship.
Get a travel guide and find some like minded attendees and take some time before or after the conference if possible to take it in. There’s a dazzling array of things to do in any city if you take the time to find them, and the exploration with new people you’ve just met is a great way to develop a quick bond.
For me, I’m definitely going to find some Jaeger Schnitzel, revel in the covert espionage of the Spy House, bring a swimsuit to take advantage of the water park RIGHT IN THE HOTEL, and make a pilgrimage to the Brone Fonz. Heyyy!
Personally I bring a couple of good luck charms with me to every conference. One is my flying pig in acrylic, a keepsake from my first heweb conference in Cincinnati, Where Pigs Fly. The second is an action figure of my avatar on Twitter, Ookla the Mok. Each of these is essentially my St. Christopher medallions of conference travel and help me to remain connected during travel to my plans and goals. I throw this is to suggest you find some thing similar. Han Solo didn’t believe in luck, but it’s got a way of rubbing off when you’re in this company of fellow travelers.